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Aboriginal Sounds.
10 years ago

It is only relatively recently that Central Australian Aboriginal languages have been written down, from about 100 years ago for the earliest languages, to some languages that are just beginning to be written today. All languages can be written down if that is what communities want. Even English was spoken for a long time before being written down. Communities are generally very proud to have a dictionary or a bible in their language.

The written form of many Australian languages may look peculiar to an English-speaker

For example, the word for policeman is:

Monatj  in Western Australia
Booliman  in Queensland
Gunji or gunjibal  in New South Wales
And the word for white man is:

Balanda  in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory)
Gubba or gub  in south eastern Australia
Migaloo  in Queensland
Wajala  in Western Australia
Walypala  in parts of northern Australia

Australian Aboriginal languages are not easy to read because more than half of the sounds are not found in English, and vice versa, so they have to be represented with different combinations of letters.

Trying to pronounce Aboriginal words from written sources can lead to interesting results and mispronunciations. Words have often been written by English speakers who have simply approximated the Aboriginal word as they have heard it,  and the letters used in writing Aboriginal languages may have a different value in the Aboriginal language than is common in English. So it is easier to give examples of Aboriginal English rather than delve into the complicated and varied aboriginal languages.

The sound system of Aboriginal English has been influenced by the traditional languages, as well as the different kinds of British and Irish English brought to Australia.

One of the most distinctive features of the Aboriginal English sound system is found in the many words which start with a vowel, where the standard English translation starts with 'h', for example

Aboriginal English
 standard English
Enry's at
 Henry's hat


 The traditional Aboriginal languages have no 'h' sound.

 There is a related characteristic of Aboriginal English pronunciation which is much less commonly found, namely the addition of the h sound to English words which start in a vowel, as in:
Aboriginal English
 standard English
Huncle Henry
 Uncle Henry


This tendency to overcompensate in using the 'h' sound at the beginning of a word is an example of a general linguistic pattern, technically known as 'hypercorrection'.
Initial 'd' in AE corresponds to initial 'th' in SE
Aboriginal English
 standard English

Initial 'b', 'p' in AE corresponds to initial 'v', 'f' in SE
Aboriginal English
 standard English




Aboriginal Languages cont'd.
10 years ago
I have mentioned how the aborigines had to adopt a form of English to communicate with the early settlers, and this has developed into a recognised language, so the vocabulary of  the settlers had to be expanded in similar fashion so that they could describe new fauna, new flora and facets of Aboriginal culture.

The vocabulary consisted of Aboriginal words (at first from the Sydney area and then with a mixture of words from other areas as settlement progressed).

The white man’s habit of picking up words in one area and taking them to another can make it difficult to trace just where a word was adopted and whether certain words found in Aboriginal languages are part of their inherited word stock or recent importations.

Altogether the white man has adopted over 200 words from the Aborigines. These fall into the following categories:

Fauna, e.g.  Kangaroo, kookaburra.

Flora, e.g. Kurrajong, mulga,(shrubland) jarrah, (type of wood.)

Aboriginal culture, e.g. Boomerang, coolamon (container)

Colloquial terms, e.g. Yabber, (talk) yakka, (hard work)

In some instances English words or phrases have been used to describe Aboriginal culture, e.g. ‘dreaming’ or ‘dreamtime’ is used to describe the period when the ancestral beings were alive.


Aboriginal words are always a popular source of proper names for houses, country properties, boats and racehorses. In some instances it is just as well that the meaning of the Aboriginal word Is not revealed. The citizens of Cunnamulla, south of western Queensland, would  not be pleased to learn  that the name of their town means ‘bad faces’...!!


I have listed a few examples that people may be familiar with.


Bilby : Rabbit bandicoot. The form bil-bi has been recorded in Wiradjuri, the language of central and southern New South Wales.

Billabong : Branch of a river cut off from the main stream.

Binghi : An Aborigine. This word, pronounced bing-eye, is derived from the term for elder brother.

Boomerang : Curved throwing weapon.
Brolga : Large kind of crane.
Brumby : A wild horse. The origin of this word is obscure and it may not be Aboriginal.
Bunyip : Mythical monster inhabiting rivers.

Cooee : A call used to attract attention from a distance, particularly in finding someone lost in the bush ; also used as a verb to cooee ; within cooee, within a short distance.

10 years ago

Cheryl!that's great that you will do that,it sure does help out allot thank you for your help and time it's really is appreciated

10 years ago

Thanks Terry, you are right it was difficult to get started with so many languages, that's why I chose Aboriginal English, I will continue with this and also do some research into the language of the people in my area, the  Butchulla people, they also have wonderful dreamtime stories..

10 years ago

Thank you Cheryl!i know i looked it up once and it said that there was over 600 different ones so i just did post any because i didn't know what one's to post thank you so much for starting this out hope you will add more

Australian Aboriginal Languages.
10 years ago
| Resources

Aboriginal Australia was made up of many different nations, each nation maintained its own language. Most people think that there is only one Aboriginal language in Australia- this is a misconception! The exact number of Aboriginal languages that existed in Australia prior to colonisation is unknown but it is estimated that there may have been around 600.

Many of these languages died out as whole nations of people were forced to speak English instead of their tribal tongue. Fortunately, not all traditional languages were lost. Today it is approximated that there are around 200 different Aboriginal dialects across Australia.

Aboriginal languages are effective tools of communication which reflect the culture, experiences and traditions of Aboriginal people. Many creation stories, cultural laws and practices are connected to language.

Aboriginal people believe that the maintenance of their languages in schools is necessary to move towards reconciliation as it helps to break down the barriers that exist between black and white Australians. School children learn about Aboriginal culture as well as the language and therefore develop a deeper respect for the traditions and beliefs of Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal English which has become increasingly recognised and accepted as a legitimate form of speech, originated with first contact with the British who were generally reluctant to learn any of the Aboriginal languages. Consequently it was left up to Aboriginal people to use some English in their dealings with them. At first this was a simplified kind of language, but within a few generations it began to develop an important communicative function between different Aboriginal groups who did not have a shared language, and so it expanded linguistically, as well as socially Features may include an Aboriginal accent and a mixture of certain words derived from various Aboriginal dialects mixed with English. Aboriginal children right across Australia speak Aboriginal English and certain words and phrases vary from state to state.

Aboriginal English is probably the first language of the majority of Aboriginal people in Australia, who make up approximately 2% of the total population of the country. It is only since the 1960s that linguists and educators have recognized it as a valid, language.

There are a number of Aboriginal English dialects,ranging from close to Standard English at one end to Heavy Aboriginal English which is spoken mainly in the more remote areas.
Here are a few examples.
Aboriginal English
Standard Australian English



Big mob                                  
a lot of

Aboriginal language

Sorry business
ceremony associated with death

Grow [a child] up
raise [a child]


pretending, kidding, joking

mischievous, aggressive, dangerous


To tongue for
to long for

Aboriginal English
standard English

E my cousin brother.
He's my cousin.

My uncle back there.
My uncle's back there.

E big.
He's big.

Three pies there, he?
Are there three pies?

When the river go down,

When the river goes down, 

                                         Aboriginal painting


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